Again we resolve to eat better and less, save money, stop smoking and be nicer to our colleagues and loved ones — or get some colleagues and loved ones.
But while 45% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, only about 8% are successful in long-term change, according to University of Scranton data excerpted on Statistic Brain.
We up our odds of success, though, if we are approach our missions in a focused and strategic way and let go of perfectionism tendencies and “all or nothing” attitudes, say psychologists.
Here are some tips to help you greet 2015 healthier, happier, richer and wiser:
Building on small successes is a far better strategy than setting big goals and feeling defeated when you don’t meet them. Set a reasonable goal, but draft multiple, specific strategies to achieve it, suggested Dr. Phyllis Zilkha, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Manhattan. Shoot for 5 lbs. instead of 30. (You can always set another 5-lb. goal after you ace this one.) Then create a diet, work out plan and establish rules about dessert, snacking, junk food, and using the stairs instead of the elevator. Change multiple behaviors in service to a single goal means “all your effort is not lost,” if you bungle one aspect of your self-improvement campaign. “Maybe you didn’t get to the gym today, but you did cut down your portions and you did make your Weight Watchers meeting,” said Zilkha. Slow and steady wins the self-improvement race.
Break it down
“Be as specific as possible,” about how you plan to reach your goal, added Manhattan psychologist Carolyn AlRoy, PsyD . To know what strategies to use, educate yourself. An extremely useful site for people struggling to shed pounds is the National Weight Loss Control Registry, nwcr.ws. If you are trying to get your financial life in order, you may want to read books by Suze Orman or other finance professionals. Use your calendar and schedule your gym workouts or whatever other behavior you’ve self-prescribed “as a date with yourself” you cannot cancel. Also, craft a reasonable timeline as to what will be achieved when, AlRoy suggested. Inking in four 45-minute exercise sessions on your 2014 calendar each a week, setting gym dates with a pal and signing up for dance lessons will get you in shape much more effectively than simply resolving, “get healthy.”
There’s a reason “Anonymous” programs help keep people sober and sane: Surrounding yourself with others who are engaged in a similar struggle keeps you accountable and provides a boost when your own motivation flags. If you don’t want to join a support group, find a buddy engaged in a similar endeavor. “That’s how I finished my doctoral dissertation,” said AlRoy. She and her friend checked in with each other weekly and “it was really helpful,” she said. And don’t neglect electronic support: Program your phone with reminders and encouraging messages.
Plan for relapse
Everybody backslides. Figure out what you learned from the mistake, forgive yourself and get back on track! Different studies show the former smokers quit anywhere from six to 14 times before stopping for good. “People who are successful are undeterred,” said Zilkha, adding, “they go through any hardship to meet their goal.” They also surrender perfectionistic tendencies to accept that we are all imperfect works in progress.
Think of others
“Consider a resolution that is not self-focused,” and involves making the world a better place, AlRoy suggests. Volunteerism is correlated with higher levels of happiness. And helping your block association, tutoring kids or otherwise volunteering not only takes your mind off your own woes and imperfections, but is a wonderful way for people to meet the “social goals” of feeling a greater sense of community, or even meeting a mate. Even following through on a resolution to “say two kind things to others every day,” helps the compliment-giver feel good while gentling a troubled world, Zilkha said.
If you make the same resolution each year, and fail, “make sure you’re not working against yourself,” and that there isn’t some deeper reason that you’re not succeeding, said AlRoy. If there is, consider seeking professional help.